Student Sent Home Because Black Jesus Costume Made Teachers Uncomfortable


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A north suburban high school student was pulled from classes on Halloween after dressing like Jesus.

According to Angenetta Frison, mother of Highland Park High senior Marshon Sanders, some teachers found his costume offensive. Her son was readmitted to school after changing out of the costume, she said.

Sanders' costume included a long, white robe, red sash, head scarf and a cross necklace.

"I wanted to be Jesus because I just got baptized and so I felt like, why not?" Marshon says of his costume choice. "He's the most influential person in my life."

He says 15 minutes into his first class he was called to the dean's office.

"She tells me that, um, my costume was offensive and I was promoting religion, which I wasn't at all," he explains.

Shortly before school let out for the day, the high school released a statement, stating that: "We initially were concerned that the costume could be offensive to religious sensibilities. Upon further review, we realized the student did not intend to be offensive."

Sanders was told he could put the costume back on.

But Frison, who met with school administrators along with her son to discuss the matter, said he chose not to do so.

"They realized they might have been premature and didn't really assess the situation," said Frison, who wondered if the image of a black Jesus evoked strong feelings.

"Race is an issue in our country," she said. "We still struggle with racism. I don't know if that was a factor, but it may have been. Would a Caucasian student dressed as Jesus have had the same effect?"

Frison said she didn't question her son's choice of costume when he left for school.

"I encouraged him to dress as someone inspiring or uplifting," Frison said. "Last night we went out to all the craft stores and linen stores and I was excited that he had chosen to be Jesus."

But the costume ran afoul of school policy, which states that costumes that "could be offensive or perpetuate a stereotype of someone's culture, gender, sexual orientation, heritage or religion are not permitted."

School spokeswoman Melinda Vajdic said the costume could be interpreted as poking fun or perpetuating a "religious stereotype."

"Costumes trivialize," Vajdic said. "I'm sure that wasn't his intent, but we want to maintain a culture of mutual respect."

Frison said she was told by a dean that two teachers complained that the costume was offensive.

"When I asked her what she meant by offensive, she couldn't tell me," Frison said. "He's walking around dressed like Jesus, a religious icon. What's offensive about that?"

"I saw other kids who were dressed as Moses and they were just walking around there fine," she continues. "I talked to them and they were questioned, but they were never brought down to the dean."

Other students agreed.

"I'm actually an Orthodox Jew and I didn't see any problem with it," senior Alyse Lichtenfeld said of Sander's costume.

"He wasn't meaning any harm to students," another added.

Sanders was first informed he had to take off the large cross he wore around his neck before he could return to class, but was later instructed to remove the entire costume, Frison said.

She and her son are members of Jesus Name Apostolic Church in Waukegan, and Sanders also attends Willow Creek Community Church in Barrington.

Last Halloween, Sanders dressed up as the rap artist formerly known as Snoop Dogg.

"They didn't have a problem with that," Frison said.



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